In comedy, the rule of three proposes that things become funnier if they occur three times. After two successive gags involving golf balls to the groin, one can only wonder if a third would have made any difference.
Old Dogs, which opened Nov. 25, fails to learn any new tricks.
The film centers upon Dan (Robin Williams) and Charlie (John Travolta), two middle-aged businessmen whose self-centered and slightly homoerotic existence is disturbed when Dan’s jailbird ex-wife saddles them with a pair of 7-year-old twins.
Accompanied by their diminutive co-worker Ralph (Seth Green), Dan and Charlie embark on a series of ill-conceived adventures aimed at giving Dan’s children a proper childhood. Hilarity does not ensue. Dan then faces the difficult choice between moving to Tokyo for work and remaining with his children to complete the “Dad List” written by his son.
Old Dogs struggles with tone from beginning to end, often wandering into absurd tangents that border on being distasteful. Travolta’s Charlie ruins a memorial service for a grandmother after a mix-up involving prescription pills, yet later we are expected to pine for the loss of his dog, laid to rest at decadent funeral.
The exorbitant displays of wealth in this film are cringe-inducing (who has money for a dog hotel these days?) and sure to strike the average moviegoer as gratuitous and hopelessly out of touch. After a year when most families took some kind of financial hit, the last people they’re about to sympathize with would be a couple of executives with lavish apartments and jet-setting lifestyles.
Although the audience is spared an appearance by Dakota Fanning, the child actors in Old Dogs are nevertheless thoroughly unlikable and tedious. Green — the next closest thing to a child actor — tries his best to inject the family dynamic with a modicum of likeability, but his strongest moments can be viewed for free in the movie trailer.
The film reaches for the heartstrings as Dan tries to reconnect with the children he could do without, but fails because of excessive blunders and distracting special effects. One electrode to the genitals later, the only genuine emotion is the lingering sadness that this was Bernie Mac’s last film. Mac’s minor role as entertainer Jimmy Lunchbox undercuts the actor’s charisma and ultimately falls completely flat.
The comedic talent of Williams is not enough to save this train wreck. As if the lack of onscreen chemistry weren’t enough, the fact that neither he nor Travolta appear to have enjoyed making a single minute of the film makes viewing it all the more excruciating. Riding a jetpack to impress his neglected children smacks of then-actor, now-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way, and you know you’re in trouble when that becomes the gold standard for family comedy.
Anyone seeking a laugh this holiday season — especially children — should avoid Old Dogs at all costs.